No. 39: May-Jun 1985
Stephen Jay Gould's recent essay, "The Flamingo's Smile," like all his writing, is thought-provoking. The essay goes far beyond the happy flamingo. It is about unusual adaptations in nature, as illustrated by three inverted or partially inverted creatures.
Gould employs these three examples to argue that changes in animal behavior must have preceded the many changes in form, function, color, etc. that make upside down living profitable. In other words, the proto-flamingos tried feeding with their heads upside down; and it didn't work too well. But "nature" responded with a series of random biological changes, some of which were just what was needed for efficient upside down feeding. In this way, we end up with admirably adapted, inverted flamingos, jellyfish, and catfish.
(Gould, Stephen Jay; "The Flamingo's Smile," Natural History, 94:7, March 1 985.)
Comment. If we were a bit flip above, it is because Gould and most biologists believe that such examples of "perfection" are nicely explained by evolutionary theory. We cannot be so sanguine, for we are still left with too many unanswered questions. Why would animals indulge in such bizarre behavior in the first place? A proto-flamingo experimenting with inverted feeding sans the proper equipment -- huge tongue, fantastic bill, straining devices, etc. -- would not be very efficient and would probably get a snootful of water in the bargain! A half-flamingoized bill would-n't be much better; and a perfect flamingo bill is pretty useless without the pumping and raking action of the special tongue. Can all these changes be orchestrated by random mutations? Finally, are there any fossils of transition stage flamingos? Antievolutionists have been using such arguments for years. The creationist literature is full of them. In reviewing the "answers" proclaimed by both evolutionists and creationists, it seems as if we really deserve some real explanations rather than superficial, philosophically shaped dogmas.
|Flamingo in feeding position.|